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June 2, 2013 at 9:42 PM

Here’s a clue to Mariners fade: it ain’t the veterans

Mariners veterans like Kendrys Morales (left) and Jason Bay (right) have carried the team in the face of a collapse by young core. Photo Credit: AP

Mariners veterans like Kendrys Morales (left) and Jason Bay (right) have carried the team in the face of a collapse by young core. Photo Credit: AP

Took about five minutes for the first Tweet to pop up on my radar this afternoon blaming Mariners veterans for the fact the team’s season is on the brink of being over just two months in. There’s no soft way to sell this: if the Mariners don’t pick things up in the next two weeks, then 2013 is done. We can talk about it being early, the team overcoming injuries and this, that and the other. But as I told somebody earlier today, the time to talk the talk is done. Now, it’s time to walk the walk. Right now, any Mariners talk isn’t worth the price of what tickets will be going for on the street outside Safeco Field tomorrow night.

When you go 3-4 in seven games against the Padres and Twins, that’s what it comes down to. Had the Mariners not lost eight in a row within a week of Tom Wilhelmsen blowing two saves, you could play the “What if?” game, but that ship has sailed. It’s now put up or shut-up time. We’ll know by mid-June whether to start booking October vacation four months early yet again.

And that’s just not right. This season should not be going this way. For those who felt that the team wasn’t built right from the start, well, I salute you. You’ve got one on me…provided, of course, you called it the way it happened.

If, in fact, you predicted the Mariners would fade because of the collapse of the entire youthful core outside Kyle Seager, with no young arms being available to replace fading veteran castoff/cheap signings, then hey, go to the head of the class. You win.

In fact, I wish the team’s problems were that simple.

If, however, you predicted the team would collapse by June because of too many veteran outfield/1B/DH signings this winter, well then, there’s just this teeny little problem called reality and what has actually happened getting in the way. Like I said, it would be so simple if we could pin it all on veterans who will largely be gone in four months’ time. Unfortunately for Mariners fans, the neck-and-neck race the team now finds itself in with the Houston Astros for AL West cellar rights has zip to do with veteran signings and everything to do with a young core that simply isn’t.

Isn’t a core, I mean. Five years in, if that’s your core, well, the Pilates instructor should be fired. That’s a core by Hostess.

Don’t take my word on it. For anyone into the numbers, it’s tough to fudge these.

Here are the position players by park adjusted OPS+. Remember, the “average” is 100 and anything above it equals percentage points above league average. Anything below is percentage points below league average. So, 110 would be 10 percent above average and 90 is 10 percent below league average. Got it?

Good.

These scores don’t even take today’s 10-0 wipeout into account. They were compiled beforehand. They still work.

Kendrys Morales — 142

Jason Bay — 132

Kyle Seager — 129

Michael Morse — 122

Raul Ibanez — 116

Those are the “above average” Mariners hitters. Now, I’ll grant you that Bay and Ibanez aren’t the full-timers that some other players are (we should hope not at this stage of the rebuilding plan) but it’s tough to argue they’ve done anything less than was hoped for by the most optimistic fan.

Seager has been fine and is the team’s second best player behind Morales right now.

As for the rest of the team:

Justin Smoak — 100

He’s dead-on league average. You want more from a first baseman.

As for the rest:

Jesus Montero — 68

Dustin Ackley — 49

Hopefully, there are no questions as to why they are in Class AAA.

Michael Saunders — 87

Saunders is supposed to be your leadoff hitter. He can’t be running an OBP of .299.

And that’s it. Franklin Gutierrez has been hurt again and at this stage, I don’t really know whether to call him a vet or a young guy because he’s old enough to be a vet, but has played in so few games as to still be comparable to a young guy. Until he gets on the field, it really doesn’t matter.

Brendan Ryan is who we thought he was. If your season hinges on his bat, your team is in trouble.

Nick Franklin has enjoyed an excellent first week. That’s all I’m going to say. I know better than to say more.

Some may want to argue that a two months’ sampling of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) shows that some vets see their offensive talents negated by their defense. I won’t make that argument based off two months of UZR. Again, I know better. I know about advanced defensive stats and what their formulas are based upon. As well as what their weaknesses are and why they make UZR, DRS (and the WAR stat) so unreliable over the short term of less than a season or even two seasons.

On the pitching side, eight-year veteran Felix Hernandez and 32-year-old No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma have carried the entire 12-man staff. Sure, veteran Joe Saunders has looked more a fourth starter than a No. 3 guy. And sure, you never know what Aaron Harang is going to give you. But, um, where is the rebuilding plan to do any better? You’ve got a not-ready Brandon Maurer mercifully back in AAA, Hector Noesi filling meaningless innings in long relief and no one else really on the radar. Oh, except for Erasmo Ramirez, now being ridiculously touted for possile upcoming starts despite only two minor league rehab outings at AA or better after being MIA since spring training.

Are we really that desperate as to view Ramirez as a solution? Apparently so.

In other words, to me, viewing the team’s latest lame effort a third into the season as being the fault of veterans hitting well above average seems a bit far fetched. Seems nuts, actually. But if you want to make the small sample UZR argument, go ahead.

I’ll stick with the 49 OPS+ by the No. 2 overall pick, the 68 OPS+ by the catcher who can’t catch and power hitter who can’t hit for power. I’ll take the sub-.300 OBP by your main leadoff hitter, the league average bat by your prime trade acquisition first baseman and the lack of any young starting rotation arm emerging to help offset the latest round of bargain basement/dumpster diving veterans.

But maybe it’s just me.

Look, two months does not a season make, but if this is the best that a five-year rebuilding plan can produce then it’s time for another plan. Time to maybe go out and get (buy) some better players to help round out the veteran core the team did a good job of acquiring this winter. Or, just keep waiting. I’ve always thought this team wasn’t going to get serious about winning until maybe 2015 or so.

When the Mariners went out and got some good, veteran hitters this winter, I thought things might change and get interesting if the young guys were really as good as advertised.

Clearly, I was wrong. So far, this young core has not been nearly as good as even skeptical old me thought it might be.

I still have hopes for Smoak. Have seen Saunders pull out of slumps before (the hitter, not the pitcher). But hey, it’s June 2. The trains are leaving the station and pretty soon, there won’t be time left to hop on board — for the straggling players still feeling their way, or the guys who put them there.

 

 

Comments | More in rebuilding plan | Topics: kendrys morales; jason bay; dustin ackley; justin smoak

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